Roseline-Ntshingila Khosa
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom



This paper aims to provide an overview of the process of de-racialisation and integration in South African schools. The paper will first provide an overview of the education system in South Africa by outlining the educational context before 1994 and after 1994. The second part of the paper will outline the challenges that face the process of de-racialisation and integration in schools that are mixed. The third aspects will focus on school based initiatives to deal with issues of de-racialisation and integration. This will be followed by an outline of the potential of the new curriculum, Curriculum 2005 to be one of the tools of integration. The concluding section will indicate that policy alone will not deal with integration, individual teachers, students, parents will need to commit themselves to welcoming and celebrating diversity.

Education Background

Prior to 1994, the education system in South Africa was divided according to racial grounds. Blacks, Indians, Coloureds and White attended different educational institutions. This arrangement, which permeated through out all sectors such as housing, welfare services, transport, concealed the diversity of the South African populace. The apartheid education policy then ensured that whites received a large portion of the education budget at the ratio of 6:1 for whites and blacks respectively. Teacher training, resourcing, teacher salaries were also unequal. As a result, the achievement tests in white schools tended to be higher than those in black schools. Education for blacks was thus perceived as inferior, with that of Indians and Coloureds being second place from white education.

After the 1994 elections, all schools were open to all children. This led to a process of black flight from black township schools to those of Indians, coloureds and whites. This flight was unidirectional. Ironically, this flight has been matched by white flight from previously white schools to private schools (Sunday Times, ). This influx of blacks to previously secluded schools led to diverse races, cultures and religions in schools for which teachers were not trained nor prepared. This challenge of de-racialisation and integration in ex-Model C schools (mixed schools) was exacerbated by the education policy prior to 1994. The apartheid education policy was aimed at brain-washing all races to believe that the everything about blacks was barbaric and inferior and vice versa. Therefore, the challenge now is not only to deal with diversity but with teachers' own prejudices and stereotypes about the 'other' that have been engraved over a number of decades. The next section will discuss attempts to de-racialise and integrate schools at the macro (national and provincial) and micro (school) level.

Macro level

Research on schools shows that the challenge of integration has been exacerbated by the fact that the national education department has not developed a race relations programme to provide guidelines on de-racialisation or racial harmony in schools (The Teacher, January 1998). This is due to the fact that the Schools Act of 1996, states that 'the right of every person is to be protected against unfair discrimination within or by an education department or education institution on any ground whatsoever' (Schools Act, 1996) The new Constitution also protects the rights of every individual irrespective of race, colour, religion or creed. Therefore, department of education does not envisage the need of a de-racialisation or anti-racist policy (Teacher, January 1998). Even the new curriculum policy, C2005 which was launched in 1997 does not have a clear and specific strategy on de-racialisation and integration (The Teacher, 1998). At provincial level, departments and ministers have responded to incidents of racism and prejudice as crisis arose. For example, in Gauteng, the education MEC (minister), M. Metcalf intervened on behalf of Grade 1 boy who was HIV positive when other parents insisted that the child be removed from the school. Subsequent to this incident, the department drew a policy that children with aids have the right to education (Mail and Guardian, 1998 ). In other provinces such as Northern Province, or North-West, MEC have intervened in schools where principals and white parents refuse entry for black children or where there were racially motivated incidents (Sunday Times, 22 March 1998).


While the previously white schools have opened their doors to children of all races, black children encounter a hostile, anti-cultural environment in which assumptions are fixed about what constitutes good education (Jansen, 1998). At the micro level, the de-racialisation and integration process is faced by the following challenges:

Lack of institutional policy

A recent survey showed that most schools do not have a policy on racial integration. In the Gauteng province only 40% of schools had the policy while only 10% of schools in KwaZulu Natal had such a policy (EduSource, 1998). Lack of such policy imply that:

  • schools react or respond to issues at an ad hoc basis or when crisis arise
  • teachers and learners are not prepared to deal with children of different races and cultures
  • acts of stereotypes, prejudices, racism, or segregation are likely to go unpunished as there is no clear guideline about acceptable and unacceptable racial tendencies
  • black children are not provided with coping strategies in a new or foreign environment
  • teachers use their discretion in dealing with de-racialisation and desegregation

This incident, related of black children in a predominantly Afrikaans school indicates how in the absence of school policy on racism, acts of stereotypes, prejudice and racism by fellow white rugby players might go unpunished:

'They (white rugby players) push us and call us kaffirs and niggers, but the principal never does anything because their parents sponsor the rugby team' (student) (Mail and Guardian, 4 March 1996)

Black children perceived as the 'other'

Although most schools have an open school policy, there exist division of 'us' and 'them' among teachers and students (Zafar, 1997). The schools cling to the predominant status quo in relation to school ethos, culture and practices in an effort to protect 'standards'. This is at the expense of black children who are perceived as representing the 'other' culture. The implications of this are that:

  • black children are continually perceived as 'outsiders' with resultant practices of exclusion
  • white culture remains dominant while teachers are ignorant of black children's experiences, culture,

In one school, a black girl opted to leave a well-off ex-Model C school for an under-resourced township school in a poor area. Her reason was that:

' …she felt more comfortable there (in a township school)' (Sunday Times, 1996).

A white girl in a predominantly Afrikaans school expressed her sentiments of blacks as the 'other' as follows:

'I do not know why they must go to white schools. Why can't they go to Soweto or somewhere else? You can't mix black with Afrikaans' (Mail and Guardian, 4 March 1998).

Colour-blind Approach

Studies show that most teachers tend to disclaim race as a factor. The claim to 'see children, not colour' (Jansen, 1998) implies that teachers and principals deny the existence of different races and claim to treat children as homogenous. The danger with such claims is that:

  • it denies the impact of apartheid in shaping our experiences of the 'other'
  • it denies the existence of children of different races and cultures and thus
  • teachers tend to use this approach in order to suppress negative stereotypes they hold of black children (McCarthy and Crichlow, 1993 in Zafar, 1997).

Assimilationist Tendencies

Although in some schools the ratio of black to white children is comparable, and schools have been open for a number of years, schools still practice an assimilation strategy. Black children are expected to assimilate into the predominant culture. This is reflected in the practised curriculum and extra-curricular activities. Sports in most schools are those that are traditionally of the white culture e.g. rugby or cricket (Zafar, 1997). Children attend 'veld schools' or retreats which were previously designed to brainwash white children about the history of South Africa, justify apartheid practices. It is not clear what the current emphasis of these veld schools is. In these schools there are few if no black teachers in these schools. In schools where the African languages are taught, these languages are taught predominantly to black children by black teachers. The implication of this is that:

  • black language and cultures are inferior to those of whites
  • potential to inflict a negative self-esteem and poor confidence among children
  • English has more status than black home languages
  • good teachers are white teachers; black teachers are only competent to teach the African languages

Deficit Model Syndrome and Related Discrimination in Classroom participation

Most schools assume that black children represent a problem that needs fixing (Jansen, 1998). The perception that the culture, experience and knowledge of black children is deficient leads to denied or lack of participation of black children in classroom activities (Lightfoot, 1983; Zafar, 1997). Teachers justify this practice by claiming that black children lack general knowledge. Teachers claim that they save them embarrassment by giving them few opportunities of participation.

Dropping of Standards

There is a general perception among both black and white children and parents that the standards in ex-Model C schools are higher than those in township schools. African parents enrol their children in former white schools with the aim of giving them a 'better' or 'white' education (Jansen, 1998; Sunday Times, 6 September, 1998). The concern, therefore among teachers, students and parents is that the influx of black students to white schools will result in the dropping of standards of education. Ironically, this concern is also shared by some black parents and students (Jansen, 1998; Sunday Times, 1998). This has resulted in some schools using overt measures such as entrance tests, language, fees, and distance from school to home, to maintain lower enrolments of black children. In some instances, school governing bodies which are predominantly white have used their power to collude with principals in excluding black children.

In a high school where racial violence erupted, black students attributed their anger at the headmaster and the school governing bodies' exclusion tactics. According to the students, blacks were not allowed to attend computer science and typing classes and the fees were increased from R800 to R1270 without consultation of parents.

' The principal said clearly that technical subjects were not for blacks….we cant' afford it (the high fees), but the principal said that if we don't' want to pay we can leave. They do not want us in the school' (Sunday Independent, 1 March, 1998).

Prejudice and Overt Racist Tendencies

Case studies and media reports indicate that in some schools, acts of racism and prejudice are practised in mixed schools. In the absence of policy of de-racialisation and integration, the perpetrators of such acts are likely to be discouraged. Despite the promise of 'good' education, black children often find themselves in very hostile environments (Jansen, 1998; Sunday Times, 1998). Black teachers also experience prejudice and racism from white students (Zafar, 1997). As an example, an Indian boy who left a predominantly Indian school due to influx of black students experienced racism and prejudice in a white school. In his new school, the boy was a butt of racism:

“They (whites) treated me badly because I was an Indian. They wouldn't let me wear my topi, they did not accept my religion' (Sunday Times, 1998)

This boy returned to his previous Indian school six months later (Sunday Times, 1998). This incident also explains that racism is not only experienced by blacks but also by Indians and coloureds.

Initiatives to Promote De-racialisation and Integration

Case studies of desegregated schools show that a small number of schools are attempting to deal with diversity in innovative ways though most of them lack de-racialisation and integration policies.

Restructuring school governance

A few schools have actively solicited the participation of black parents in decision making structures such as the school governing bodies (sgb's). The aim in such schools is for sgb's to reflect the demographics of the school. This has been accompanied by attempts to improve parents involvement through efforts such as scheduling parental meetings in slots which are most suitable for black parents who come from long distances or work until late.

Intolerance of overt racial actions

In some schools, racist tendencies are reported and punished (Zafar, 1996).

Integration programmes and fora

Other schools have attempted to take student leader groups on leadership courses where issues of race, culture are actively dealt with (Zafar, 1997). These courses are attended by student leaders, who, it is hoped that their experience will rub off to the rest of the student body.

Teaching and Learner Support Strategies

Some schools have adopted co-operative learning strategies in order to promote integration among children of different race groups (Zafar, 1996). A study by Zafar shows that such strategies are left to the teacher's discretion without institutional support. Some teachers integrate the curriculum with aspects that relate to cultures and experiences of children from previously disadvantaged backgrounds (Ntshingila-Khosa, 1999).

Acceptance of Change and Strategic Planning

A few schools like Parktown Girl's high, have managed to balance the ratio of black to white students and managed to rise to the challenge of providing multicultural environment for its mix of students. Such schools have not seen the influx of black children as a threat. Instead, they embraced themselves for change and explored ways of accommodating the change. This has been achieved by reading the signals brought by diversity of students.

Management has also undertaken strategic planning sessions in order to meet the challenges of the diverse student population. Instead of retaining the status quo, some schools have tried to retain the good about the traditions and embraced the modern changes which are brought by changing population. The principal of Parktown Girls put it this way:

'While we have strong traditions we try to embrace the good of the modern. I hate to hear 'but we have always done it that way'. If it works, fine, but there are better ways of doing things' (Cereseto, Sunday Times, 1998, pp. )

A principal of Queens High said the following about the concept of embracing change:

“..people often see change for the worse. …There was fear that the standards and discipline would drop. But we weren't going to tolerate a lowering of standards and things that people thought would change when the population groups changed, , have not changed. In fact, our school has got stronger. We have kids who are hungrier, they hare grabbing the opportunities' (Wilsenach, Sunday Times, 1998)

Assertion of own identity and culture by black students

In some schools, black children have asserted their culture and identify in various ways. Some have boycotted participation in traditionally white sports. This has resulted in the introduction of black related sports such as soccer or basketball (Zafar, 1998). Black children also use their music, or hairstyles to assert their identity.


Although the new C2005 is not explicit about integration, its premises and tenets show that it has potential to promote de-racialisation and integration. This opportunity can only be realised if teachers are encouraged to make an active effort to deal positively with diversity. The following are the key principles of the C2005 (Spady, 1996; Department of Education, 1998)

  • all learners can learn and succeed if given the opportunity
  • teaching and learning should acknowledge and be based on children's background

and real life experiences

  • focus on outcomes as a driver of education
  • expanded opportunities and support for students to achieve the outcomes
  • high expectations for students, frequently stated as 'success for all'

In addition to these principles, one of the learning areas (subjects) in C2005 is Arts and Culture. This learning area allows teachers to introduce, respect and acknowledge the diverse cultural backgrounds of children. For example, in a Theme on Health and Safety, teachers and children can bring modern medicine by using examples of doctors and nurses. Traditional medicine is acknowledged by bringing traditional healers or sangomas which are common to most black children. The role of traditional healers is respect instead of being perceived as black magic or witch craft.

Case studies based on my research on C2005 show that these premises have great potential to promote integration and de-racialisation.

Teachers have been sensitised to learner's needs and backgrounds

This awareness of children's background helps teachers to bring life experiences from the township into the learning situation. One teacher from an English speaking ex-Model C school indicated how C2005 helps them to be bring examples related to black children's life experience such a mini-bus taxi whereas prior to C2005 she would only mention examples that relate to the experience of a white child.

'So we have to teach them that other people also travel by taxi or by bus or they walk…and teach them different kinds of taxis. You get a hi-ace, combi taxi and you get the car that you phone. …'Look it (C2005) forces us, not it forces us, but an obligation is put on us to learn more about things like that we never knew before. Like a taxi. We are now obligated to learn how to catch a taxi, what you do, how you pay, so that we can carry that on to our children. And I think we get to know our children better. I think it benefits you as a person, to create that bond with the children” (Teacher A; interview transcript)

Teachers now acknowledge that children have knowledge and that they too can learn from children, including children from black communities

One teacher, after attending a workshop on C2005 indicated that in the past, she would not engage black children in discussions relating to topics which she felt were not related to their low economic background. She said that the workshop made her aware that she can engage these children by bringing in example that relate to their experiences. By doing so, black children are now able to participate equally in the classroom irrespective of the topic.

'He said we often think that because the little one (black child) grew up in Soshanguve (black township), his experiences are less. And this little one (white child) his father drives a BMW ….they fish over the weekend. We often expect that those children because their families are rich their experiences are rich. So you do not ask this one (black child) you kinda leave this one because 'what does he know'? …those children often have got such good ideas (Teacher B; interview transcript).

She went on to explain that in a topic on Transport, even though some black children may not have vehicles at home, they can use their experience of constructing wired toy cars to contribute in the discussion about cars.


A national or provincial policy on de-raciaPlisation and integration is needed. National policy alone will not ensure de-racialisation and integration. Such policy will need to be supplemented by in-service training and guidelines for teachers to confront their own prejudices and racism. Teachers will also need to be skilled on managing children from diverse backgrounds. At the school level, de-racialisation policy should be drawn by schools. This process should involve teachers, management, governing body and the community at large. Such a policy should be aligned with the Schools Act. Individual teachers, students, principals, communities should have commitment to transform schools into institutions where diversity is welcomed and celebrated. A long term goal should be to create a climate where diversity is celebrated, invited and encouraged and sustained.


  1. Department of Education (1997). Curriculum 2005: Lifelong Learning for the 21st Century. Pretoria
  2. EduSource (1998) Provincialisation of Education: A review. No.23, December. Johannesburg.
  3. Jansen, J. (1998) The Politics of the Multicultural Curriculum: A South African Perspective. In Dealing with Diversity in South African Education: A debate on the Politics of National Curriculum. (eds.: M. Cross; Mkwanazi-Thwala, Z. and G. Klein). Juta Press. Cape Town.
  4. Ntshingila-Khosa (1999). Transcripts of Interviews based on Case Studies of Implementation of Outcomes Based Education.
  5. Spady, W. and Marshall, K. (1991). Beyond Traditional Outcomes Based Education. Educational Leadership. October. pp. 67-72.
  6. Schools Act, 1996
  7. Sunday Independent (1998) Tense calm returns to Vryburg after week of clashes. 1 March. Johannesburg
  8. Sunday Times. (1998). Bussing to disaster. 6 September. Johannesburg.
  9. Sunday Times. (1998). Monument to misunderstanding. 22 March. Johannesburg.
  10. The Teacher (1998). Racism Still Alive and Well. January. Johannesburg
  11. Zafar, S. (1997). School-based Initiatives to Address Racial and Cultural Diversity in New Integrating Public Schools. Education Policy Unit Research Report.

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